All About Glass

You are here

René Lalique: Design Drawings for a Perfume Pendant and a Perfume Bottle

All About Glass

Thanks largely to René Lalique (1860–1945), glass became one of the liveliest forms of expression in French decorative arts during the first half of the 20th century. In the vanguard of both the Art Nouveau and Art Deco movements, Lalique helped to reinvigorate the market for French luxury goods. He worked for some 20 years with jewelry, and he later devoted his design and business talents almost exclusively to glass production. As he established a stylistic vocabulary in glass, he expanded its technical possibilities. He also utilized industrial production methods to make his glass products more affordable, without diminishing their artistic quality.

Guirlandes et faunes (garlands and fauns), René Lalique, 1895-1900?. 1 art original: ink, graphite on parchment paper; 28 x 22 cm. CMGL 45137
Perfume bottle design depicting a pendant perfume simulating a Chinese snuff bottle, René Lalique, 1895-1900. 1 art original: ink and watercolor on BFK Rives parchment paper ; 29 x 22 cm. CMGL 83542.

Pictured here are two original drawings of Lalique designs in glass. The perfume pendant in ink and watercolor is thought to date from about 1895–1900. Lalique had already incorporated glass in his jewelry, and this piece is a truly lovely composition that joins his idea of personal adornment with his soon to be famous perfume containers. Both the pendant and the perfume bottle, titled Guirlandes et faunes (Garlands and fauns), illustrate Lalique’s infallible good taste as well as the architectural influences that inform his entire body of work. Here we see a simultaneously classical and modern aesthetic articulated through the simplicity, symmetry, and graceful proportions of these two shapes. Lalique also respected the transparency and translucency of glass. He used these natural properties to their best effect by choosing mostly colorless, frosted, and opalescent glasses, frequently adding delicate textures to them. The result was especially effective for perfume bottles, which seemed to be illuminated from within by the gold and amber colors of the scented liquids they contained.

In 1905, Lalique opened his first retail shop on the Place Vendôme in Paris. The famous perfume maker François Coty was one of his neighbors. An existing part-time collaboration between the two men intensified, and by the 1920s, Lalique was also designing bottles for other perfume makers, such as D’Orsay, Houbigant, Roger et Gallet, and Worth. Eventually, Lalique dominated French glass design and manufacture. He produced several elegant and affordable lines of table and desk wares. For the automobile, he made hood ornaments to which he gave such names as “Speed” and “Victory.” The architectural glass he designed for various public and private interiors remains a testament to his inexhaustible originality.

Lalique insisted on the highest standards of excellence in craftsmanship and innovation. Moreover, he believed that everyday objects should have good design, both practically and aesthetically. Glass was ideally suited to the realization of this philosophy because it allowed functionality and art to reside in the same object. From the initial creative step of a design drawing to the finished product, his art is infused with a deep understanding of beauty. For this reason, perhaps more than any other, the art of René Lalique continues to give exceptional pleasure.

Diane Dolbashian

This essay is part of a series on Treasures in the Rakow Research Library.

Bayer, Patricia, and Mark Waller. The Art of René Lalique. Secaucus, New Jersey: Wellfleet Press, 1988.

Marcilhac, Félix. René Lalique, 1860–1945, maître-verrier: Analyse de l’oeuvre et catalogue raisonné. 2nd ed. Paris: Editions de l’Amateur, 2004.

Utt, Mary Lou, Glenn Utt, and Patricia Bayer. Lalique Perfume Bottles. New York: Crown Publishers Inc., 1990.

Published on January 4, 2014